Hritz: Steelers Draft Needs In 2014

By Jeremy Hritz

The 2014 NFL Draft is still 110 days away, yet the excitement of Steelers fans is at intense levels as they are optimistic about the prospects of a successful new season and of new draft picks propelling the team towards not just a playoff berth, but a realistic chance of contending for another Super Bowl.

While it is entirely too early to begin mock drafting without having watched a reasonable amount of game film, it is not too early to identify the positions the Steelers will draft come May. Based on the performances of the existing players on the 2013 roster, the expected development of younger players, and on the likelihood of new rookies contributing, below is my perspective of the key positions that the Steelers will address in this year’s draft. While the order that I am listing these positions does not necessarily reflect the order that the Steelers will draft this May, it does indicate the importance/need of the position for the team to ensure continued improvement in the upcoming season.

1. Cornerback – While I wouldn’t have predicted this as being a position of need at the beginning of this past season, Cortez Allen did not perform up to high expectations, Ike Taylor began to decline, and the early pick on Curtis Brown proved to be a waste. While Allen still has time to develop into a quality starter, Taylor has seen better days, and it seems more likely that William Gay would better serve the defense as the starter (I never thought I would write that. Ever). Regardless, the Steelers need a boost at the cornerback position, and while there wouldn’t be any pressure on the pick to step into the starting lineup in his first season, he could find his way into sub-packages. Justin Gilbert is the highest-ranked cornerback out of Oklahoma State on most mock draft boards, but he will more than likely be off of the board when the Steelers select at 15, and Darqueze Denard from Michigan State is smallish and lacks durability and would not be worth the 15th overall pick. Unless a darkhorse lights it up at the combine, it might be a safe bet that the Steelers wait until rounds two or three before taking a cornerback.

2. Wide Receiver – The Steelers have a solid receiving corps right now, with the exception of the unproven of Markus Wheaton. Antonio Brown is shifty and can be explosive, and he has proven himself to be an elite wide out, whereas Jerricho Cotchery is sure-handed and reliable (I am assuming he will be re-signed). The missing piece in this unit is a big-bodied receiver that not only can bring in the deep ball, but also make the tough catch in the red zone by out-leaping defenders. While taking a tall and strong receiver may be a bit indulgent as the Steelers have several other needs, it may be the missing piece of the puzzle that could take the Steelers from being a good offense to a great one. A large target in the form Kelvin Benjamin or Mike Evans could create mismatches with opposing defenses that would not only benefit the passing game, but would also force defenses to not over-commit to the run, opening lanes up for Le’Veon Bell. While I’m not sold on the Steelers drafting a wide receiver at fifteen, if one of these big name giants is available, they will be difficult to pass up.

3. Safety – The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last year, and he could assume a starting role with the imminent departure of Ryan Clark. However, there is not any guarantee that Troy Polamalu will be back next season because of uncertainty surrounding whether or not his cap charge can be lowered via an extension or a pay cut. The best case scenario for 2014 is that Polamalu returns at a discount and that he mentors Thomas through his first year as a starter. Beyond 2014 though, chances are that Polamalu is done, and when looking at the roster, there are simply no potential starters and there is no quality depth. Like they did last season, the Steelers must have the foresight to build the defense for future years, and they must make this happen at the safety position. Could be a third or fourth round selection of the Steelers this year.

4. Outside Linebacker – There is disagreement amongst the Pittsburgh media as far as what the outcome of the Jason Worilds situation will be. Some believe that he will be re-signed, while some believe that the Steelers will not be able to afford his monetary expectations. Regardless of who returns, the Steelers do not have quality depth at the outside linebacker position and must address it through the draft, with possibly two picks, not just one. If Worilds and Jarvis Jones are the starters next season, who will step in should there be an injury? With Chris Carter unable to show promise, the Steelers have zero depth at the position, and that could prove costly should there be an injury to their top two guys. This could precipitate the Steelers bringing in a serviceable free agent as well, but it’s almost a guarantee that they target the outside linebacker position.

5. Running Back – The Steelers are set for several years with Bell as the feature back; however, there is no back to compliment his powerful style with the threat of the homerun. Jonathan Dwyer should be resigned as the short yardage back and a serviceable fill-in should Bell get hurt, but the Steelers need a change of pace runner to add another layer of complexity to the offense. The Steelers won’t address this position early, but they could make this happen as soon as the fourth round.

6. Tight End  – Heath Miller can’t play forever, but he still has a few years left to contribute to the Steelers. He was slowed at the beginning of this season because of the knee injury he suffered in 2012. However, as the season progressed, he appeared to be more comfortable, and it was evidenced in his play on the field. While there is scuttlebutt that the Steelers may go tight end in the first round by selecting Eric Ebron from North Carolina State and address both the need for a big bodied receiver and a future starter tight end, Ebron more than likely will not be on the board when the Steelers select at 15, and the team may not have enough belief in Ebron’s blocking abilities. While a tight end in the first round may be a stretch, the Steelers will select one at some point in this year’s draft.

7. Defensive End  – It’s uncertain whether or not Ziggy Hood will be resigned for next season, but the Steelers may be wise to do so, as he has proven to be durable and serviceable, though not a game-changer. It is unlikely that the team will go after a defensive end in the early rounds, but they could address the positional depth late.

8. Inside Linebacker – The Steelers are set with Lawrence Timmons, but there are still question marks at the other inside spot. Can Vince Williams develop into an every down inside backer? Will Sean Spence overcome his injury and assume the starting role he was drafted for? Or will Larry Foote be allowed to stay and be inserted back in the starting lineup? While there is a lot of uncertainty at the position, the Steelers are not likely to draft an inside linebacker early. Again, this is a position with not much depth, and so addressing it in the later rounds as they did last year seems the most likely approach.

  • kakello34

    At some point they need to re-sign some of these younger guys like Worilds and Hood and maybe bring Foote back because there aren’t enough draft picks to fill all these holes. They also need to hit a home run on an UFA or two as well.


    Think what this defense would have looked like if Timmons had a season ending injury early. As much as I like the promise a few players hold, we need another stud ILB yesterday.

  • 20Stoney

    This article doesn’t paint a very pretty picture. A lot of guys on the decline and not much depth. I really think if the Ebron is there they need to take him. But I thought they should take Eifert last year, so what do I know.

  • BurgherinMD

    With Ike very likely getting cut waiting past round two for a corner would seem to be an act of lunacy. Cortez Allen got off to a slow start for health reasons and came on some later, but the Steelers have still not seen enough of him to know if he can be their top corner. Willie Gay struggled in 2009-2011 starting on the outside, but fits well as the 3 covering the slot. Unless the Steelers come up with an Alan Greenspan-like ingenious way to work the cap and bring in someone to start at corner, then they have to go corner in one of the first three rounds. With nothing after William Gay and the utter failure of Curtis Brown they will have to go corner later in the draft too…unless they find one in FA at a very low cost. Hoping for best player available because the last time they desperately drafted for need we saw David Boston to Ariz, Tory Holt to STL and the Steelers got Troy Edwards 🙁

  • Callentown

    It’s gotta be Defense in rd 1. With the sheer number of QB options, as well as WR and OL, we could get lucky and have one of the studs fall to us.

    Once the Senior Bowl happens there are always new players that stand out. Perhaps Mack falls to us or maybe Gilbert.

    I’d prefer to use the current trend of big wide-outs and TE’s to try and trade down (as would most teams of course) and possibly still get a strong defensive player in round 1.

  • steeltown

    Larry Foote re-signed??…he just re-signed last year, currently under contract

  • steeltown

    WillieG had a good season back in 2011, but I agree they have to go CB in this draft, im hoping they draft two CBs like they did back in 2011 with C.Allen and C.Brown and also target another Safety prospect. Its sounds weird to be saying we need to spend 3picks on the secondary, but the time has come, it wont be long before Clark, Taylor and Will Allen are all gone and the only young prospects with promise on this roster are Cortez, Shamarko and Antwon Blake

  • dennisdoubleday

    With so many QBs, OTs, and pass rushers expected to go early, I think it is highly likely that Gilbert IS available at #15. But I don’t think he is such a can’t miss pick that we will take him there. I expect a CB in the 2nd round.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’m starting to like Ebron as our #1. We passed on Eifert last year to get JJ(tough choice but I like the JJ Pick) as the writer stated Ebron would give us a TE and a big body red zone threat. I still think we should add an offensive weapon with our number one and between FA and the rest of the draft address the defense.

  • Brian Miller

    A lot of draftnicks are saying there aren’t any CB’s or TE’s worth the #15 overall pick…I like Amara from TT, but would only want a good TE after round 1. I really think if Evans, Watkins or Lee are there at 15 we MUST take one, especially with the uncertainty of Sanders and the age of Cotchery. We do need another safety in a big way, and the class is not very deep…but I think rounds 2-4 is where we look, and maybe these compensatory picks will help. The draft is deep with OL, DL and OLB, especially for 3-4 defenses from what I hear, so this would be a great year to add depth to the OLB whether we keep Worilds or not.

  • Steeler Fanatic

    Allen Greenspan. LOL. They better draft a cornerback early as their secondary is in shambles. Totally disagree about Dennard. He is a ball hawk who is good against the run and pass. Sign a FA safety (BUF’s Byrd).. I think they need to find an athletic raw tight end in the middle rounds. And please find depth at OLB.

  • Steeler Fanatic

    Then trade down, hell, trade out of the first round if need be. They need a) picks and B) cap space. I think for once they have to go to FA to find some help on defense.

  • Callentown

    Agreed on FA. But, many teams would like to trade down each year. It’s not just a decision of wanting to. There have to be teams willing to trade up to work with you, and that’s the difficult part.

    Would love to see it if they can pull it off.

  • Chad H

    He is small and not very fast. Sorry I don’t see his skill set translating to the NFL. He is not a Steelers type of CB. Don’t waste pick 15 on Dennard.

  • Luke Shabro

    If I remember Eifert was still there when JJ was taken. Really would’ve liked it if they had taken Eifert instead. Then again I was calling Worilds a bum before he got hot. This is why Colbert gets paid the big bucks. Not me

  • David Edward

    Let’s see…Joe Haden 5’10 12″ 193 runs a 4.5, Darqueze Dennard 5’11 14″ 197 should run a 4.5. Haden can cover, make the pick, and tackle the catch…things the Steelers covet in a CB. Dennard can do those things too. I’d be interested in what your idea of a Steelers CB is. I’ve watched the tape on Dennard. The thing I will knock him for is that he attempts to go for the big hit sometimes instead of just wrapping up… one of my pet peeves.

  • Chad H

    Have the Steelers been drafting small guys? No, look at what they target. Guys that are a minimum of 6′ and have quickness to them. If they are looking for a guy in the 1st it would be Gilbert. It’s not my preference, I’ve just been paying attention to who they draft and Steelers comments of what they like/look for in their CBs.

  • Steve

    Foote and Hood are done with the Steelers. Foote is too slow and old and Hood is serviceable as a backup but Woods will start ahead of Hood.

  • Bradley Campbell

    To many rookies at this point they will have to bring in a veteran safety who could start. Probably not a big money signing. They will need a little veteran help.

  • Drop WR down and move TE up and put NT on there. I love McClendon, but he isn’t a full-time NT. Woods played well given the chance, but I am not sold on either as a long term solution at this point.

  • Caesar

    Keep seeing chatter about Shamarko Thomas as heir apparent to Ryan Clark. Seems like he is more of a SS than a FS. Might there be any chance of Polamalu switching to FS and Thomas taking over at SS? If that were possible the “need” for a safety in this year’s draft goes down a bit. If not, they probably do “need” a safety because not sure Thomas is the replacement for Clark.

  • Ryan Barton

    1. CB or WR.
    2. WR or WR.
    3. FS (comp pick)
    4. DE/OLB for OLB depth.
    5. DE/NT
    6. RB
    7. TE
    I think that an experienced MLB FA for the right price would be better than a draft pick this year, if they can get one that contributes similarly to what Cotchery has.

  • Asmitty56

    DE should be higher, at lest above OLB. And the likely hood of an early round DE being taken is very high…

  • r4kolb

    Who da thunk after the first half of the season there would be no mention of an O lineman needed in the draft. WOW!

  • Intropy

    I think a major difficulty this off season is that the Steelers lack of talent isn’t a couple of obvious gaping holes, but rather they have a bunch of players who can play, just not very well.

    QB: Here’s a spot where they’re really set.

    LT: Beachum did okay later in the season. Will he improve and actually be good.? Will he struggle? Dunno, but right now average starter is the target.

    LG: Ramon foster is just a guy, but seems reasonably reliable at least.

    C: Pouncey is good to great, but he keeps getting hurt. He’s also really overrated and coming into his last season, so I think he’s likely to be gone for monetary reasons pretty soon. Still, it’s likely one of Velasco or Wallace plays well enough to avoid being a liability.

    RG: DeCastro has this covered.

    RT: Geez. I dunno. Earlier seasons GIlbert looked good. This year not so much. Adams played well in limited time last season. This year on the other side he was awful.

    WR: Antonio Brown is a star. Cotchery is a good number 3 and probably a mediocre number 2. Wheaton is a mystery. They need depth. A Good number 2 would be nice to have, but not vital. Plus, the role of buy guy who can catch would be better played by…

    TE: The offense looked much worse when Miller was out. And he’s old and declining. They need a tight end who can catch and preferably a good all-rounder. Even assuming Miller still has the tread to start, you can run plenty of two TE sets to get your money’s worth.

    RB: Assuming Dwyer is kept on the cheap, I think your platoon looks mostly okay. I’m in the RBs are relatively fungible crowd, so pick up some UDFAs or bargain bin free agents and call it a day.

    FB: Fine here.

    DE: Heyward looks great and needs to be locked up. Keisel is about done, but could possibly play one more season. Hood is sub par but can at least play. McLendon and Woods are intriguing as well. If I’m running the Steelers I’m getting McLendon comfortable at DE is he’s able, not so I can move him out of NT, but so that he and Heyward can be the two guys when they go two down linemen, then it’s not so big a deal when the other DE is relatively limited (like Hood).

    NT: McLendon is decent. Woods looks like he’s getting better and is a capable backup. Plus NT doesn’t play that much. There’s no need unless they decide to move McLendon to DE permanently, and even then Woods may be a sufficient next man up. If both Keisel and Hood are gone, they will need some bodies on the DL though.

    OLB: WHo knows what’s going to happen with here. Which of Woodley and Worilds will stick around. Will Jones step it up? They need some linebacker help somewhere, and the talk about moving Jones inside is probably just talk, but could genuinely work out. In that case they’d definitely need an OLB. If not, then someone for depth would be a good idea.

    ILB: Timmons and who else? Williams was rookie and got to play, which is an accomplishment. But he didn’t play well. This defense relies on good LB play, so upgrading a poor player there may be relatively important. What about Spence? Will he play next season, and if so will he be good?

    CB: Okay here is a legitimate gaping hole. They need a CB who will take over a starting role soon. Taylor was bad. Allen was decent. Gay was good, but we know from before he’s better suited to the nickel role. And who’s behind that? Yikes.

    S: Lumping these together. I think Shamarcko looks more like a SS than a FS, but a FS is who is almost certainly about to leave. They play similarly enough these days to mix and match though. How long until Polamalu is gone? It may even be this season since he doesn’t seem to be playing up to the dollar amunt he’s making. If he’s gone this becomes a huge hole as well.

    P/K/LS: Free agents will suffice here, but I think hunting for a new punter is important, and replacing Warren hasn’t been playing too well either.

  • dkoy85

    I wouldn’t mind that. Unless somebody falls- which has happened in the past- I don’t see a defensive player at 1.15 making an impact like an offensive prospect at that spot. Either trade back or take a WR or TE. BUT we have to draft for the D the rest of the draft.

  • Ernest

    If Watkins/Lee/Evans are gone by 15 then I think they should try to trade down to the later 20s and pick up either KBen/ARob/J.Matthews while picking up additional picks to fortify/reload the defense. Assuming that they want to go WR in the 1st rd. Since they haven’t drafted a cornerback in the 1st rd since the Clinton administration I say it’s a pretty good assumption.

  • Jeremy Hritz

    Steeltown, you are right. This is a blatant error on my part about Foote’s contract. Thank you for pointing this out.

  • Josh Knepshield

    Darqueze Dennard is by far the best corner in the draft. He can play both man and zone. Watch Gilbert’s 2012 tape….he sucked. Gilbert simply can not play zone coverage effectively, which is what the Steelers run a majority of the time. Don’t know what this guy was talking about. Darqueze Dennard is the same size as Darrelle Revis, is he smallish?

  • Josh Knepshield

    Trade back in round 1 to 23. Take Mike Evans, who could fall if he runs a slow 40, which is possible/likely. Gain an extra 3rd in the trade back. Take Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech in the 2nd Round. Take LB/S Telvin Smith in the 3rd Round, he can be like another sean spence clone. Take C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, in the 3rd Compensatory pick. I know its not their style, but could the Steelers look to trade a 4th for Dolphins DE/DT Jared Odrick. He is 3-4 end that the Dolphins took in the 1st round a couple of years back. He played pretty well as a 3-4 end. Now the Dolphins run a 4-3 and he lacks a position. He is on the trade block, a 4th should be all it takes to get him.

  • Josh Knepshield

    Trade back in round 1 to 23. Take Mike Evans, who could fall if he runs a slow 40, which is possible/likely. Gain an extra 3rd in the trade back. Take Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech in the 2nd Round. Take LB/S Telvin Smith in the 3rd Round, he can be like another sean spence clone. Take C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, in the 3rd Compensatory pick. I know its not their style, but could the Steelers look to trade a 4th for Dolphins DE/DT Jared Odrick. He is 3-4 end that the Dolphins took in the 1st round a couple of years back. He played pretty well as a 3-4 end. Now the Dolphins run a 4-3 and he lacks a position. He is on the trade block, a 4th should be all it takes to get him.

  • alex

    with no discussion of NT, does this mean we have one on the team right now?

  • alex

    Benjamin or Evans @ #15 just makes me salivate with the idea of two 1000 yrd 10+ TD WRs on the team!

  • David Edward

    Here’s a list of the CBs drafted in the Tomlin/Colbert era..

    07 – William Gay 5’10” 187 4.48
    09 – Keenan Lewis 6’1″ 195 4.47
    09 – Joe Burnett 5’9 1/2″ 192 4.58
    10 – Crezdon Butler 5’11 1/2″ 193 4.43
    11 – Curtis Brown 5’11 1/2″ 185 4.51
    11 – Cortez Allen 6’1 1/4″ 197 4.50
    12 – Terrance Frederick 5’10” 187 4.44
    13 – Terry Hawthorne 5’11 3/4″ 195 4.31

    Only 2 out of 8 over 6’…guess you weren’t paying close attention then? I’ll give you the 3 who were close to 6′. I think the point you were trying to make was that 2 of the successful picks happened to be 6’1 (Allen and Lewis). I don’t see Dennard’s height being a problem for them, however if he runs a 4.6 at the combine, they are likey to pass.

  • Mark

    Dennard is 5’11” 197lbs. Gilbert is 6′ 200lbs. Hes not really “smaller.” If he was 5’9″ , then thats a different story.

  • toonasteel

    Ebron is not from NC State as you put in your article. He’s from UNC.

  • Douglas Andrews

    We need Colbert to hit some home runs in the late rounds like he did with C Allen A Brown and K Beech to name a few. Steelers can’t afford anymore L Swede C Carter or C Brown picks.

  • steeltown

    No worries, i think the question is will he end up being a cap casualty? If they draft ILB at all in the upcoming draft, that might be an indicator

  • bradyw

    Perfect list. Cb and wr are our 2 biggest needs, id take either in first rd, but only cb or a big wr like robinson or matthews.

  • bradyw

    Yes we need robinson or matthews. Need a legitmate big threat across from brown.

  • Don

    I think the evolution of the league toward passing is making this less of a need. They’re playing nickel so much more often.

  • Marcus

    I agree. As painful as it is to say, Heaths best years are probably behind him, and the rest of our tight ends are tragic. Ebron looks like an exciting player, and he will give you a lot of options as far as formations. I know there are bigger needs – but I think he would help the most.

  • DrakePirate

    I think there is a good chance that Ebron will be there at 15, i dont know how the writer is thinking he isn’t ?

  • DrakePirate


  • DrakePirate

    I do think Ebron & Amaro will be there at 15 and i actually think we are fine with Cortez he did a solid job, and i have seen enough of him to be sold … but we do need more CB/S for sure !

  • Douglas Andrews

    The offense just needs a boost and a big bodied WR or TE that can stretch the field or even open up the middle of the field would be another dimension. Now the Defense needs some re tooling. FA and draft picks should get us back on the right track as far as the D.